The First Christian Church is affiliated with The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Congregations of the Christian Church began organizing in 1804, seeking unity among people of all denominations and freedom from doctrinal creeds. "No creed but Christ" became the slogan for this movement. Today, the Christian Church is one of the largest churches born on American soil, with more than 1.2 million members in over 4,000 congregations.
HISTORY OF THE GREAT BEND CHRISTIAN CHURCH (From 1881-1955) (From 1956 to present)
The history of the First Christian Church at Great Bend, Kansas is a typical Western Kansas pioneer story: small beginnings with great visions; hard work in difficult times; courageous souls struggling ahead--occasionally knocked down by circumstances, but rising to try again; and always through the years every busy, reaching forward and outward.
The very first meetings of the Christian Church in Great Bend date back to 1881 when meeting were held in the old court house. Later meetings were held in the G.A.R. Hall, the Moses Building and the Hulme Building. The church was organized in 1882. Rev, J. M. Wickham was pastor and the following families constituted the charter membership: Wm. Hood, J.J. Winterberg, Fanny A. Morgan, Lusk, Carey, Thomas R. Keaton, J. M., Jane W. Stone and Isaac Flint. The following are the names on the charter as trustees in 1884: Samuel W. Rush, John Winterberg, William Hood and Jane W. Stone.
These with Fanny Morgan and Thomas J. Flink were the incorporators. The clerk then of Barton County, Ed. L. Teed, put the seal on the charter March 1884. This charter, secured March 27, 1884, states that the purpose of the organization is to preach and teach Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Old and New Testaments. The name designated was "The First Christian Church" or "The Church of Christ".
Shortly after the charter was granted, a lot was secured east of the present Baptist Church and the foundation for a church building was laid. For some reason the plans were not carried out and shortly after this the congregation ceased to meet.
Some of the Evangelists and ministers of that early day were J. M. Wickham, Elder Stover, Elder Lorton, Elder Spivey., Wm. Benedict and Elder Keenan. A clipping from the local newspaper dated August 25, 1882, follows: “J. M. Wickham will preach the funeral service of the late Thomas R. Keaton on Lord's Day morning at 11 O'clock at the Courthouse." Evangelist Ridenour, with a singer named Givens held a meeting in 1900 in the G.A.R. Hall in which the church was re-organized.
For many years there was no permanent meeting place. It wasn't until 1901 during the pastorate of Elder McConnell that a house and lot was purchased at the corner of Broadway and Stone and a very modest frame church building, 36x48 was build and dedicated. This gave the congregation a church home and a parsonage. Later, under financial stress, the north end of the lot and the parsonage were sold, only to be repurchased in 1925. The first funeral in this frame church was that of Mr. W.S. Pavey, Nov. 12, 1901 when Rev. Lorton was pastor.
This frame church served for about 25 years then was torn down and sold to Elder Fred Hanger (who built the house that now stands at 2907-16th) and replaced by the present structure. The church began a forward stride under Otto Shirley and the Bible School membership reached nearly 200. Evangelist O. E. Hamilton added many to the Church. In the spring of 1916, the attendance was often 200 so the church contracted to purchase the seven-room Odell House, (which afterward was called the annex) adjoining it on the west which gave 100ft. frontage on Broadway. This was used for class rooms as was also the Episcopal Church across the street east.
When James Cornish became pastor, July 1916, he found a debt of $16,000 but a people full of faith and energy. Gradually finances improved; the debt was paid; and plans made for further advancement. Perhaps the thing that made possible the rapid payment of the debt was that forty members agreed to tithe for three months. Better days were ahead. It was about this time that the church gave $500 to missions and benevolence in a single drive. The church was now taking it's place in the confidence and esteem of the community. A union revival under the leadership of Lockett Adair in 1917 brought 78 members into the church. It was now seen that larger quarters must be provided if the church was to continue to grow. A building fund of $15,000 was begun. The annex was sold for $300 to a Mr. Grow and moved to 12th street.
The sub-story of the present building was begun in 1920. The west half (65x70') was built in 1921 and was dedicated with a basket dinner. It had all been paid for and there was a good balance on hand. W.E. Hulse of Hutchinson was employed as architect and the present building stands as a tribute to his architectural skill. Elder Fred Hanger became pastor at the close of 1921 and remained two and one-half years. During that time the east unit of the sub-story was built and the heating plant installed. During the "basement years" the Sunday School attendance grew until every ''nook and cranny" was literally filled. Later Boards of Education have wondered at the solution of the "growing pains" of that period. The only charter member of the church to continue to reside in Great Bend was Margaret Conkle who passed away in 1922. Her funeral was the first to be held when the basement of the new church was completed. She left in her estate, a remembrance to the church, a sum of about $350; later $150 was added to this sum by Mr. & Mrs. W. H. Hammond. The east window was dedicated to her memory. There were many additions to the church and much enthusiasm for the new building.
The Winey plan of finance was inaugurated and the fund grew rapidly. Under H.A. Pearce, the present Gothic structure was begun in June of 1925 with T. C. Cork as contractor and was completed under the pastorate of E. B. Chancellor. While the building was under construction, services were held in the High School building. On Rally Day before dedication the attendance was ever 500. The building committee at that time was composed of Isom Wright, W. L. Jacobs, J. S. Olmstead, O. L. Warner and George Tucker. The new building was dedicated on December 27, 1925. George L. Snively gave the dedication address. About $13,000 was pledged at that time.
The architectural style of the building is Gothic. It has four beautiful Gothic windows, two in the south and two in the east. An oil painting, depicting the "Lord's Supper" adorns the wall directly back of the altar. It was painted and dedicated to the church by Raymon Thompson in September 1931. A cross is built in above the Baptistry. The first baptism in this new baptistry was that of Gertrude Cobb of Ellinwood on January 27, 1926.
The Finance Association organized at the beginning of the Winey Plan was self-perpetuating and had functioned continuously. J. Edith Harris was secretary from the start. The loan had been carried by the Prudential Building and Loan Company. At the expiration of the loan period they were obliged to refinance under less favorable terms. The new loan was for $7400 and was on a ten year basis calling for $93 per month interest and principal. They were then paying 8% interest and getting only 6% of their original stock which is just the reverse from the original loan. The new loan dated from January 1, 1933. The depression made church work doubly hard especially where a heavy debt had been carried. Many churches had been foreclosed. The Great Bend Church had come through better than most. This was due to the high degree of loyalty on the part of those who would not acknowledge defeat in a matter of spiritual concern. The membership at that time was 350.
In 1881, when the church was first organized, Miss May Winterberg, (Mrs. W .Dunn) became organist and served in that capacity until Miss Edith Harris became pianist. She served for over 25 years. Mrs. Owen Boyle (Enid) then became pianist and organist and will begin her fifteenth year in May, 1955. She has served faithfully and willingly on all occasions. Following are names of those who have faithfully served the choir as leaders: Mrs. Clarence O'Neal, Mrs. Roy Archer, Mrs. Bertha Emerson, Mr. Ralph.. Hogan, Miss Lola Burton, Mr. Wayne Baxter, Mrs. Walter Coen, Mrs. Carl Atkinson, Jo Dean Whitacre (Mrs. Charles Spurlock), Miss Madge Marshall, Mrs. Joe Secrest, Mrs. Clark Knight (Marian) and Mrs. James Haines (Jane) who is the present director. We feel that it is altogether proper to name others in honorary mention in respect to their faithful service to the church in those "early days" of the church: Mr. W. L. Jacobs served the Sunday School as Superintendent for 18 years, giving unstintingly of his time in order that the S.S. might progress; Mrs. J. H. Harris was a faithful S.S. teacher for 20 years; Mrs. Lem Morrison (Lucy) served as Church Clerk for 18 years.
The Loyal Workers’ Class has been in existence for many years. (Records do not show just when it was organized). It is composed of the oldest and most active ladies in the church and has a membership of 25 or 30. Substantial contributions from this class were made toward the new church building. Mrs. J. H. Harris and Mrs. Lem Morrison served the class as teachers since its organization. Mrs. Edith Sagerty is the teacher at the present time. There is also a deep sense of gratitude to all the pastors who have served this congregation. Mrs. Frisbie also taught the class.
The long hard years of the “depression” prolonged the time of indebtedness on the new building. It should be recorded that the men of the church did much of the actual labor during the building years. Mr. Daniel Keller was very faithful to the church during the time he was a member. He gave all of his spare time in laboring for it’s up-building. Regardless of the task, whether digging the basement, building the foundation or repair work, every spare moment found Mr. Keller on hand busily laboring for his beloved church until his death. Also,, during these financially hard hears, the stewardship the women understood was giving of time and strength. Accordingly, they served dinners, made and sold candy, hominy, doughnuts, etc.... Countless hamburgers were fried and sold at the park. They sewed and embroidered and held bazaars. In short, they did just about everything in the category of things that small churches did during those years of struggling to exist. The men, recognizing the work, worth and ability of the women granted the deaconesses a place on the official church board during the pastorate of Everett G. Haley. These women thus serving have played an unassuming but loyal and vital part in the church program.
In April 1942, the building debt was paid. But characteristically, the church did not stop to rest on achievement. In August 1942, under the leadership of Rev. James H. Behler, the congregation voted to purchase a new parsonage at 2217 Broadway through the aid of Church Board of Extension. This is one of the best parsonages anywhere for a church of this size. At this time, too, an organ fund and a redecorating fund were started.
There is always something “dong” in the Great Bend Church. By the fall of 1945 the activities and work become so numerous and heavy that the church with the guidance of Francis U. Bruce, Minister, decided that a full-time pastor’s assistant would be necessary. Accordingly, Miss Elsie Fahlsing was called to serve in this capacity beginning in January 1946 and a little later became the Youth Worker also. Other who have worked in this capacity were: Ladine Handy, Mary E. Gilstrap, Ima Jean Kidd and Marvonne Harrison.
In December, 1945, the church became a Front Line Church in Benevolence in it’s giving to the Colorado Christian Children’s Home. The same year the church ranked among the top in the State of Kansas in its Week of Compassion offering. Also in 1945, it furnished a room in Axtell Christian Hospital at Newton. Then again in the spring of 1946, the church contributed an amount covering the cost of a room in the Axtell Nurses’ Home. It’s missionary giving also reveals it’s outward reach.
Keeping step with the forward outlook of the congregation, the church in 1946 ordered robes for the choir, contracted for an Orgatron and bought a new furnace and cooling system. Also in the spring of 1946 a Council of Churches was organized in Great Bend of which our church became a part. Representatives from seven churches met in a second meeting on December 9 and adopted a Constitution. Mr. Bruce was made temporary chairman. In January of 1947, Joe Brown was elected as the first president of the Great Bend Council of Churches. In the summer of 1946, the women caught a new vision of achievement of Scriptural examples of women’s work so on July 11,, met to hear plans for unifying womens’ organizations in the church. It was called the Women’s Council Plan and under this plan every woman in the church would automatically belong. The first meeting as the Women’s Council was held on October 16, 1946, thus combining the Bethany Guild, Harmony Circle and Adult Missionary Society.
After hard work and a determination characteristic of the Christian Church people, a program was held on May 11, 1947 at the evening services celebrating the clearing of all church properties from debt, also the parsonage debt. The "burning of the mortgage" was done at this time. At the end of the year, these good people had also collected enough in their Organ fund to purchase an Electronic Organ which was dedicated in a combined Organ concert and Christmas Musical on December 21, 1947. Miss Dorothy Forney was guest organist. During the year of 1948, the cooling system was installed, the church was redecorated and carpeting, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Luther Moore, Sr. and Luther, Jr. was laid in the Chapel. The beautiful velvet curtains at the platform in the Chapel were also a gift of the Moores, but were not hung until the fall of 1951. In 1949, the kitchen was remodeled and was observed by a covered dish dinner for the congregation.
In March of 1949, the Church Board approved the securing of a loan for paying the balance owed on the redecoration project, remodeling the church kitchen, purchasing chairs and tables for the dining room and doing some work at the parsonage. A Building Finance Committee was appointed to negotiate the loan and set up a plan for paying it in monthly installments. By November 1950, the balance on this fund was just $50. Since pledges were made for a year, it was recommended by the Board that this building fund be continued to the end of it's year which was April 1, 1951. Any money accumulated in this fund would be used for remodeling the rest rooms, which project was begun that spring and finished in time for the State Convention. We must give thanks here to every person who helped in redecorating the basement, especially to the men who gave so much of their time and energy in remodeling the rest rooms--some who even had to "baby sit" with the cement when it was poured for the floors. Words cannot express our gratitude for such unselfish service. We hesitate to mention anyone’s name for fear of omitting on Another project sponsored by members of the church was the purchasing and laying of a rug for the parsonage. A large cardboard plaque was laid out in squares, each selling for $1.50 per square. Names of those who bought squares were, written on the plaque. When the rug was laid this record of names was placed under the rug as a reminder to future generations of loving gifts donated by friends and members. The rug was bought in the spring of 1952.
The Great Bend Church enjoys a sense of great satisfaction in the fact that Stephan J. England, Dean of the Bible College of Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma is its son and was ordained to the ministry in this church, December 23, 1917. It claims Mrs. James Christiansen (Margaret Gilstrap) a Christian Church minister’s wife. Also Louise Weide who served as church secretary at the Garden City Christian Church...... Glynn and Jean Adsit, a young couple who prepared to be missionaries to China, served the church as ad interim ministers the summer of 1945. Miss Allene Ramsey also studied at Phillips for full-time Christian service. Hal Hawkins' vision of the ministry thrived in the Great Bend Church before his being called into the Service. Kenneth Keller and Earl Scarbeary dedicated their lives to the ministry in this church. It might be noted here that Earl came back to this church for his Ordination service... Another young person who dedicated her life to Christian work was Billie Gene Wikle (Mrs. Leon Lomas); also Vera Mae McGill who studied to become a Religious Director. The church also claims Orvan Gilstrap who dedicated his life to Christian service and is serving as a Christian Minister. He took his training at Manhattan Bible College. At the present time Mary Ann Wikle and Carolee Thompson are attending Phillips University preparing to be of service in the Lord's work. Last, but not least, is our pride and joy, Velma McGill who grew up in this church and dedicated her live to become a missionary. She did graduate work at Phillips and did all other necessary preparation before going to India where she is now serving. Velma was ordained in this church on October 14, 1949. The message for this service was by James H. Behler. D. Wright Lunsford of Wichita assisted in the ordination. (For your reference--Velma’s birthday --June 24). Velma will begin her first furlough in April of 1955.
Other young people in the church are giving the matter a serious thought. The church believes this growing interest in things eternal is a measuring rod of its spiritual influence and growth. It is convinced that these manifestations are indicative of the type of leadership it has had--consecrated ministers and lay men and women working in the church school and young people's organizations.
It will be of interest to mention at this point about the Christian Service Flag which was dedicated on December 22, 1946. That was a time of high inspiration when the minister unrolled the flag and explained its meaning. People felt anew the call of Christ, being challenged individually to take up the cross and accept gladly a life of service. The flag was made by Mrs. B. H. Arnold (Rose). Gold (for those in service) Red (for those preparing) and Blue (for those who had dedicated their lives) crosses were placed on a white field against a blue background. The suspending tassel was gold. One of the gold crosses was for J. T. Wheeler (now deceased) who went into the ministry from this church about 1915.
Time marches on and so also the progress of the church. The church entered the "Crusade for a Christian World" with a goal of $10,000. Closing date was June 30, 1950 and our church was awarded a certificate for having reached its goal in the alloted time which run from 1946 to 1950. Our total giving was $10,143.29. In 1950 a project was begun by the, Earnest Workers Class under the leadership of Mrs. Rose Arnold, to raise money for, Organ Chimes. However, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Gates had talked of giving the chimes to the church before his sudden death in August of that year. So Mrs. Gates made known her wishes to go ahead according to their plans. The plan included the installation of indoor chimes and outdoor amplification making possible also the loud speaker system we wanted for the Sanctuary to be installed as a part of-the same sound system. Both these features were a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gates. Dedication service for the Chimes and Amplification was held January 21, 1951 with Wade Lewis of Wichita at the Console.
The Great Bend Church also enjoyed a sense of satisfaction in being able to serve the state as Hosts to the Kansas state Convention, September 23-25, 1951. This was held just one week before the Bruces left for Canada to assume their duties in Edmonton as Missionary-preacher for a new congregation. Membership at this time was around 650.
During all these years the attendance of the Church and Sunday School had grown until the sides of the building were literally "bursting". By this time the people began to realize that more room must be provided to take care of all the Sunday School classes. As a class outgrew one room, classes were shifted at these times in order to accommodate each one. So out of necessity another Building Fund was begun for an Education building. A. building architect met first with the building committee and the education committee, then with the congregation to present tentative plans for a suitable building which was to be built on the lot north of the present church building. Even parking space was at a premium so the trees behind the "Little House" (being used for the Junior S. S.) were removed to make more room for parking.
The plan for financing the new building was to be a '”Family Project" and we were to be contacted as families. It was suggested that if possible each family give $1.50 per week. Although no goal was set, it was pointed out that if each family gave the $1.50 per week, it would amount to more than $30,000 per year. This plan was to run for one year. Before the end of the year it was decided that something more definite must be done in order to bring us nearer our dream of having an Education Building. Sunday School attendance was averaging 390 per year with each department full and over flowing. There was inadequate facilities for working with the children and youth.
Out of several meetings and careful consideration, plans were made to carry out an organized, intensive solicitation in the homes for budget needs which also included plans for the new building. General Chairman for this plan was Mr. Joe Brown, with Dr. M. M. Swan as Assistant Chairman. Others who helped as Chairmen of various committees to further the plan were Loyall Komarek, George Bell, Mrs. Ruby Blankenship, S. K. Myers, Mrs. A. V. Davis and Mrs. Howard Wikle.
As a "starter” for our Canvass Plan, members of the church were contacted by phone and by letter inviting them to an All-Church Loyalty dinner which was held on November 12, 1954 at the City Auditorium. Reservations were to be made in advance. There was no charge for the dinner; no solicitations were made;-- it was only for fellowship and to acquaint the members of the need for a new Education Building. The dinner was attended by about 500 members.
During the following two weeks, efforts were concentrated on obtaining pledges from every member family. Results of this canvass were very satisfying. The volunteer canvasser gave of his time and money. He had faith in the other fellow as well as himself. There was more of a spiritual uplift among the church people as each pledged himself and his money to greater things for the future of the church.
At the end of the year, the church had $21,000 invested in the Board of Church Extension of the Disciples of Christ at Indianapolis which had drawn interest to the amount of $212.60 since it was deposited last April. Perhaps our dream of a new Education Building are not too far distant, after all! Membership of the church at this time was around 770.
Not only was the church looking forward toward a building project and better teaching facilities, but also realized that with an increased membership, work of the minister became heavier and more demands were made on his time. The Board decided that someone would be needed to help with the ministerial duties so called Mr. Preston Barrett to be our Assistant Minister and Youth Worker. Mr. Barrett began his duties October 1, 1954. Mrs. Farrell Holt (Mildred) was hired as General Church Secretary. Mr. Harry Allison is Church Custodian, having served in that capacity for the past nine years.
Rev. Bill Johnson 1986-2014
Rev. Joshua Leu 2014 -